Citizen Journalism is Increasing Food Security and Countering Misinformation in Puerto Rico

Citizen Journalism is Increasing Food Security and Countering Misinformation in Puerto Rico

Image Source: “Ciencia Pa ‘La Gente”.

In Puerto Rico, increasing food security is a top goal. Puerto Rico was vulnerable to food insecurity prior to COVID-19 and the pandemic has only exacerbated those concerns. On the island, locals are creating innovative projects to increase food security and AtmaGo provides a citizen journalism platform for these community leaders to communicate their initiatives. 

I recently presented an AtmaGo Citizen Journalism Workshop to the collective group of women in agricultural sciences, “Women in Ag Science” (WAGS). WAGS includes women from Puerto Rico, Colombia, China, and Brazil. They created the group to create visibility for women in agricultural science and discuss the role science can play in increasing food security. The members of the group want women to feel comfortable to join the field of agricultural sciences and help reduce the gender bias that exists within the field. To grow their communication skills and educate themselves in the importance of citizen journalism, they contacted Atma Connect to provide additional training and resources. “We were looking for ways to improve our writing to reach more general audiences and the AtmaGo workshop was a good fit for our goal,” explains Noelymar González, co-founder of Women in Ag Science and a soil science doctoral student at UC Davis.

During their Citizen Journalism Training, I demonstrated how to use citizen journalism to communicate the power of science to others in their communities. Among the topics of discussion, we stressed the importance of research and science in the development of society and how Citizen Journalism can inform and inspire communities. “I think we would have a better informed population if more people mastered the skill of citizen journalism,” says Noelymar.

As a scientific community, WAGS has noticed that scientists can have problems creating a relationship of trust and communication with the people they are trying to reach. This creates issues of misinformation. Some people find it easier to obtain information from non-scientific sources, probably because it is prepared in a more attractive and easy-to-read way, even if they are not educational sources. This has been seen numerous times during the COVID-19 pandemic where misinformation has spread around the virus and vaccination efforts. 

During the workshop with the women in WAGS, we discussed how academic scientists can practice their creativity and use easy-to-understand and engaging outreach strategies, such as AtmaGo, to reach those hard-to-reach people and have a positive impact on their lives. “The experience was helpful and the practice exercises were a lot of fun!” – Noelymar González, co-founder of Women in Ag Science.

Visit Women in Ag Science and learn about their work:

By strengthening their communications through citizen journalism, WAGS can reach and inspire new people, such as Jean Cuevas who helps run 6 community gardens throughout the Caño Martín Peña Special District in Puerto Rico. Jean regularly reads and posts in AtmaGo. In a post on AtmaGo, Jean describes how each of the gardens strengthens the local community it serves. “The Caño Garden Network was created through the relationship that each of these gardens has with the communities. This seeks to rescue and maintain a culture of planting, eliminate clandestine landfills and promote food security and sovereignty in an active community. Stay tuned for upcoming posts to learn more about each garden,” writes Jean. 

Another example is that of Marta Santos, a community leader for an initiative addressing food insecurity in communities on the northeast coast of Puerto Rico. “This group started with the Garrochales Produce initiative which was born out of this pandemic. We as a community have seen how certain issues do not get the attention they deserve. We want to bring attention to our community garden initiatives so that other community members can feel inspired and replicate it in their communities,” explains Marta.When the pandemic hit she and her community started taking on the issue of food security because They did not know how long COVID-19 would last.  Today, the project is still going strong in the houses of community members . Each family has either a chicken farm or a vegetable garden and food is being produced at the family level with the surplus exchanged, sold, or shared with the local community. Marta uses AtmaGo to read information about how other communities are tackling food security and learn from them. She has also written posts to educate and inspire others.

These are just a few examples of how citizen journalism is bringing together groups of people on the island who are all striving to build resilience, counter misinformation, and improve their local communities. 

Written by: Erika Marrero, Puerto Rico Program Associate, Atma Connect

Building Resilient Communities By Celebrating A Powerful History

Building Resilient Communities By Celebrating A Powerful History

“Looking back at history in Puerto Rico helps us see that we have always been powerful. Right now with the many challenges we are facing in Puerto Rico, people here feel powerless in their ability to participate in decision-making and governance. I believe it is because we don’t know our history, and we have forgotten how powerful we are. With these heritage tours that we are doing on AtmaGo, we are highlighting the history of the communities that surround the castles, so people know their own history and the power that they have.”

Erika Marrero, Puerto Rico Program Associate, Atma Connect

Appreciating cultural diversity goes hand-in-hand with a just and equitable society. Resilient communities are built when people feel connected to their culture and feel empowered and inspired to better their lives and the lives around them. Additionally, uniting and uplifting people through their history and culture increases the number of local leaders striving to improve their communities. 

During the first few months of 2021, Atma Connect in Puerto Rico partnered with the National Parks Service’s Educational Program. Firstly, participants take a virtual tour of the San Juan National Historic Site. With over 500 years of history, The San Juan National Historic Site is a symbol of the many stories of aspiration and empowerment in Puerto Rico. 

During a Citizen Journalism Training (CJw) led by Atma’s Puerto Rico Program Associate Erika, participants discussed the history of the island and how it is important to connect with the island’s history to build a foundation for a more resilient future. 

The training focused on the importance of education around the topics of the past and present so as to help communities develop a sense of ownership and empowerment. In a post event survey, 77% of participants gave the tour and following discussion a 5 out of 5. Participants expressed their interest in learning more about Puerto Rico’s history and culture.

“There are important pieces of Puerto Rican history that are not common knowledge among Puerto Ricans and these educational presentations we created remind us, Puerto Ricans, of our agency in our history and culture. This, in turn, nurtures our sense of belonging and allows us to grasp control of our destiny.” – Erika, Puerto Rico Program Associate, Atma Connect

AtmaGo is a platform that helps people connect with and unlock the power and brilliance that is already within them, that is embedded in their histories, and is the key to improving their lives, their communities, and the planet.

5 Questions with Atma Connect’s Field Director – Alfan

5 Questions with Atma Connect’s Field Director – Alfan

In this interview blog series, we are highlighting our inspiring Atma Community including employees, supporters, and board members. 

Meet Alfan, Atma Connect’s Field Director! Working on the ground in Indonesia, Alfan brings Atma’s products and programs to local communities to give them the power and support to better their lives and the lives of those around them. Alfan has helped grow the AtmaGo platform to reach more people in Indonesia and he believes in the power and spirit of neighbors helping neighbors. 

Q: What are you most proud of that Atma has accomplished?

Alfan (A): I am proud of Atma Connect for consistently moving towards community empowerment through information technology by taking a direct approach to grassroots movements. I am proud of the programs we run including digital literacy training, citizen journalism and direct mentoring programs. Atma Connect has also contributed to how communities in Indonesia have handled the COVID-19 pandemic by developing a platform specifically dedicated to health campaigns, free counseling, and reducing negative stigma during times of crisis. That means a lot for our society. 

Q: Why do you believe in Atma’s vision? 

A: I believe in the people behind Atma Connect, the people who are driving the vision. They are people who are highly dedicated to social development and who are experts in the field of digital platform development. Everyone in the Atma Community is experienced and talented.

Q: What inspires you about Atma’s approach?

A: In the digital era, the opportunity to contribute positively to society is wide open. I am inspired by people who are able to motivate others to do good. Digital platforms like AtmaGo are able to reach a large audience and achieve positive impact effectively.

While Atma Connect runs a digital-based platform AtmaGo, we also carry out direct offline mentoring activities by providing digital literacy and citizen journalism trainings. For grassroots communities this kind of training is very impactful. I am inspired by how Atma Connect is increasing the level of digital literacy for local communities. 

Q: What are your personal goals with Atma Connect? What would you like to accomplish in the next year?

A: I want to open more Citizen Journalism and Digital Literacy classes in areas where that information is needed the most. Comprehensive classes with a simple curriculum and support from experts in their fields amplifies the voices of ordinary citizens. I want to help grow AtmaGo’s community and impact. 

Q: What has been your favorite moment or story to come from working with Atma Connect?

A: My favorite memory is when we had both the US and Indonesian teams meet in person. It’s very valuable and special when the US team visits Indonesia!

Tackling Food Insecurity in Puerto Rico with Atma Go

Tackling Food Insecurity in Puerto Rico with Atma Go

Community ties are strong in Puerto Rico. This is a place that is built around people getting together and working together. While poverty and food insecurity were always problems in Puerto Rico, which imports over 80% of its food, the extensive damage inflicted on the island from Hurricane Maria accelerated and intensified this issue. While 1.4 million Puerto Ricans were food insecure before the hurricane, Maria left the majority of households in this condition. 

Then the Covid-19 Pandemic hit. In 2020, while enduring one of America´s strictest lockdowns, one food bank reported handing out almost two million meals, doubling from last year. Food prices on the island are high, especially for fresh food.

Reducing food insecurity by helping neighbors turn backyards into income-producing urban gardens is just one way AtmaGo has been a critical community tool in Puerto Rico this past year.

Thanks to support from generous partners like Vodafone and Love, Tito’s, we’ve been able to train 166 Puerto Rican residents in citizen journalism and reach 148,301 local users with information and resources to empower their communities. 

International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction

International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction

Connecting communities & resources with AtmaGo

People are more likely to survive disasters and address vulnerabilities when they have good social networks and connections. But especially on the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction, we recognize that there is no one easy fix or perfect tool to reduce disaster risk. The best plan for resilience and saving lives? One that connects resources and communities at every level.

Imelda is just one of millions who have used AtmaGo to share vital information that helps them recover from disasters (and prepare for the next one), reporting problems and sharing solutions to daily challenges in their neighborhood.  

“After the disaster [Sulawesi earthquake] the area where I live did not have a clean water supply, we didn’t know where to look for clean water, and the power was out. After reading a post on AtmaGo that said that the Red Cross had a water supply, the whole family and I went to the Red Cross office, and Alhamdullillah, the Red Cross provided water to our housing complex.”
-Imelda, Sulawesi, Indonesia

Learn more: Can mobile phones improve disaster preparedness?

More from the UN about #DRR and disaster risk governance


Women leaders are building mutual support in the time of Covid-19

Women leaders are building mutual support in the time of Covid-19

As the Global Pandemic hits certain communities harder than others, people are turning to each other to solve local problems. And, women are on the front lines of creating and spreading these solutions. A group of women in the barrio of Garrochales in Arecibo, Puerto Rico are spearheading an urban farming movement in their backyards which they are documenting on AtmaGo. Marta Santos, one of the leaders of this effort,  emphasized that “this initiative seeks to create a sense of community and support families in Garrochales to achieve sustainable development.”  

In her piece on AtmaGo, Marta highlights that the movement has secured four agricultural specialists to support community members through virtual trainings and serve as a resource while families transition their backyards into urban farms. The training is divided into two parts: urban gardening and urban poultry production. 

Puerto Rico es un pueblo solidario, Puerto Rico is a nation in solidarity. To me, the way this is demonstrated in Puerto Rico is through people showing up for other vulnerable people. Community members show up with the little resources they have, and they show up for others with even fewer resources. I see this from the participants in the citizen journalism trainings, and the stories of mutual support on AtmaGo. AtmaGo is the portal for documenting all of these incredible stories of solidarity and mutual support. From neighbors shopping for each other, to taking collective action to address food insecurity, AtmaGo is helping to document and amplify these incredible moments of solidarity. 

AtmaGo is connecting users to online and offline community building activities and resources in their neighborhoods, and users are highlighting community members and initiatives meeting the needs of the most vulnerable. In one post on AtmaGo a user highlighted an Americorps volunteer who is educating low income communities on environmental conservation and sustainable waste management to alleviate poverty levels. In another post users are sharing resources being made available to small, locally owned businesses to ensure that these small entrepreneurs can continue offering goods and services during the pandemic and stay afloat. And in other posts, users are documenting how their households have reinvented their day-to-day lives with the shelter in place orders. 

Citizen Journalism Trainings

Since the start of the pandemic Atma has moved all of our programming online. COVID-19 has greatly reduced the ability to gather in person, and the needs in Puerto Rico have increased with the pandemic. Through remote connection, our virtual citizen journalism and community empowerment trainings continue to build networks of leaders throughout the island, enabling community members to elevate needs and mutual aid initiatives by their community and other leaders throughout Puerto Rico. All of the participants of our trainings have been women who are active in community development initiatives or are interested in getting involved in mutual aid. In one of our trainings in July with Garrochales Produce, we trained participants involved in an initiative to address food insecurity and household income diversification through urban gardening and urban poultry production. One of the leaders for this initiative had this to say about their work:

This group of women participating started with the Garrochales Produce initiative which was born out of this pandemic. We as a community have seen how certain issues do not get the attention they deserve. We want to bring attention to our community garden initiatives so that other community members can feel inspired and replicate it in their communities.

We wanted to continue being productive during this period of social distancing through our community garden initiative.

In another training, the group of women participants were trail guides for the Punta Tuna Wetland Reserve, a wilderness reserve in the eastern part of the island, in the municipality of Maunabo. These guides have taken on the responsibility of being stewards for this reserve, educating the immediate community and visitors about the flora and fauna of this particular ecosystem, and carving out for themselves a source of income in a municipality with a median household income of $20,000 per year and an unemployment rate that can fluctuate between 13-20% in any given year. These women also participate in other community building efforts, like the care of the elderly community and supporting families who care for family members with Alzheimer. They are sharing accounts about their work and community organizing on AtmaGo. Diany, a guide and environmental educator for the wetland reserve, has shared information on AtmaGo on the inception of the trail guides for the reserve and the importance of their work for the reserve and their community. 

In another post, Johanna, a reverend, wrote about a support group for families caring for family members with Alzheimers started at the congregation she serves. In her post she highlights the generosity and kindness of the people of the municipality of Maunabo and also shares that there is a high population of elderly people, some of whom have been diagnosed with Alzheimers. In her post, Johanna chronicles the lack of social support services available in her community, the resources the support group has been able to tap into like membership to a national Alzheimer’s association, and how other community members can participate in the group.

After the citizen journalism training, we survey participants about their experiences, so we can continue to improve the training and measure the impact they are having. In the post-training evaluations, 100% of participants said the training increased their knowledge on mutual aid support networks and on citizen journalism, and 93% said that the training increased their knowledge on engaging and inspiring others to take action.


Clinton Global Initiative – Effective Communication Strategies During a Crisis

In July, Atma was invited to present at a Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) webinar for the members of their network on Effective Communication Strategies During a Crisis. Atma highlighted the importance of building community through crowdsourced information, showcasing how community generated stories can catalyze peer behavior change and how empowering community members to tell their own story allows them to be protagonists in the change that they envision for their neighborhood. We presented alongside Fernando Lloveras, President of Para La Naturaleza, a conservation trust in Puerto Rico, and Dervan Malcolm, Communications Specialist, and radio show host in Jamaica. We were honored to share our insight with the CGI Network members on communication tactics for compelling and effective online communications that build community, and to share the importance of user generated stories during post-disaster response and recovery. 

Thank you for your generous support in making all of this possible! We look forward to sharing more stories with you about the impact we are having together in empowering women and communities to rise to the challenges of Covid-19 together.